Energy Tribune: Navy Captain Guns Down Biofuels

May 20, 2013

Robert Bryce- May 20- The U.S. military’s expensive experiments with biofuels – along with the rationale for entire biofuels business — has been gunned down in a fusillade of friendly fire.

You may recall that over the past few years, the Pentagon has been funding a number of efforts to develop biofuels. On Earth Day 2010, the Navy flew an F-18 using a mixture of conventional jet fuel and biofuel derived from camellina, a plant in the mustard family. After the flight, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus declared that the Navy and Marine Corps were committed to “reducing dependence on foreign oil as well safeguarding our environment.”  Since then, Mabus and the Navy have continued to hype the potential of biofuels and its effort to create a “Great Green Fleet” of ships. And in March, the Navy insisted its alt-fuel program won’t get hit by the sequester.

Now comes one of the Navy’s best and brightest, Captain T.A. Ike Keifer. In March, Keifer, an aviator who has been deployed seven times and spent 21 months in Iraq, published a scathing indictment of the biofuels sector in Strategic Studies Quarterly, the U.S. Air Force’s most-prestigious journal.  Alongside articles about nuclear weapons and terrorism, was Kiefer’s broadside: “Energy Insecurity: The False Promise of Liquid Biofuels.” The key paragraph:

“Imagine if the US military developed a weapon that could threaten millions around the world with hunger, accelerate global warming, incite widespread instability and revolution, provide our competitors and enemies with cheaper energy, and reduce America’s economy to a permanent state of recession. What would be the sense and the morality of employing such a weapon? We are already building that weapon—it is our biofuels program. For the sake of our national energy strategy and global security, we must face the sober facts and reject biofuels while advocating an overall national energy strategy compatible with the laws of chemistry, physics, biology, and economics.”

To be certain, there are many critics of the biofuels business. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of the Swiss food giant Nestle has declared that using food crops to make biofuels is “absolute madness.” Just a few days ago, Alan Shaw, the former CEO of Codexis, the first “advanced” (made from non-food crops) biofuel company to be publicly traded on a US stock exchange, said flatly that  it was impossible to convert crop waste, wood, and plants like switchgrass into motor fuel and do so economically. Shaw said it was wrong to base the motor fuel industry on plants. “The feedstock is wrong,” he said.

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